Korean American artist Yaeji’s music would have sounded very different if it weren’t for the technological innovations of the past few decades. When the genre-blending singer, songwriter, producer and DJ started making waves in the mid-2010s, she was juggling a full-time job and having to rely on her phone as a songwriting tool, which didn’t bother her. would not have been the case. possible even a decade ago.
“I should be working on music after work, on the weekends, or on the train,” she told Genius. With his phone, Yaeji could “put down ideas very quickly anywhere”, but his rhythms sounded much coarser. “I was using apps on my phone and didn’t know much about engineering or mixing,” she says. “So things seemed muddier.”
This confusion can be heard on Yaeji’s 2017 self-titled debut EP, as well as its groundbreaking follow-up, EP2, and it helped foster an intimacy with listeners that no doubt played a role in its early success. At EP2“Raingurl” by – perhaps Yaeji’s most-listened to song – the fuzzy texture of the house-infused beat makes you feel like you’re in a crowded club with Yaeji as she raps in Korean and English.
Yaeji can trace the impact of technology on his music back to his childhood. Growing up, Yaeji moved around a lot, spending time in New York, Atlanta, Korea, and Pittsburgh, where she attended Carnegie Mellon University. While its home base constantly changed, one thing remained constant for the multi-hyphenate: the Internet. Through blogs and online videos, Yaeji honed her eclectic taste, discovering artists like Radiohead, Missy Elliott, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. You can hear that hip-hop influence throughout his catalog, especially on songs like 2020’s “MONEY CAN’T BUY,” where Yaeji trades bars with Oakland MC Nappy Nina over a punchy bass beat.
Video games have also opened up Yaeji’s world to new sounds. She credits Korean games as Elancia and the Japanese game Katamar introducing him to electronics. And with easy access to a myriad of instruments through music production software like Ableton, Yaeji naturally began mixing elements of those early influences into his own work. “I’m a very impulsive creator,” says Yaeji. “I don’t tend to think too much about ‘This is what it’s going to look like.’ It really is like an extension of me.
Yaeji is one of many genre-defying artists born out of advances in technology that have changed the way people make and consume music. In the early 2000s, the rise of Auto-Tune inspired a new wave of rappers to trade punchy bars for more melodic flows, and sometimes even sing along. Since then, it’s become the norm for stars like Lil Nas X and Doja Cat to climb the charts by mixing hip-hop with elements of pop, R&B and even country.
The public also seems more open to experimentation. With streaming platforms creating wider access to music, fans are less concerned about language barriers and genre boundaries. Starting in 2022, for example, the average user of a top-tier streaming service would listen to 40 unique artists from around the world per week. This globalization is why bilingual K-pop groups like BTS are now regularly topping the US charts. In recent years, users of the same streaming platform have also become more likely to search for playlists based on mood than genre, a trend that has spawned music subcategories. specifically named for the sentiments for which they are intended. recall. Enter: chillhop.
Artist-friendly digital distribution services can also benefit artists. Before music sharing sites dominated the industry, critics, labels, and listeners had the most control over the genre assignment of music as it was distributed around the world. Now, with direct access to these digital distributors, artists can opt out of recording contracts and upload their music independently, allowing them to take back some of that power. As examples, Yaeji cites SoundCloud and BandCamp, both of which offer a feature for artists to create their own genre hashtags when uploading songs to the sites. “There is definitely value,” Yaeji says. “I think in some smaller scenes, that’s how these new genres and subgenres come out.”
As she continues to hone her skills with the technology at her disposal, Yaeji knows her music will only continue to evolve. She has already noticed different sonic layers in the new music she is working on in the studio. “I just learned a lot more, and it probably broadened my range, because I have more options and tools that I’m comfortable with,” she says. “My knowledge of how to use everything is more extensive, so I’m going to go for more experimental or wilder options and not be afraid to try more things.”
In an ideal world, Yaeji’s next project might not be labeled by genre at all, but in a completely different way. “I definitely fight with genres,” she says. “If there’s a common thread running through all the music I’ve done and do now, it’s that there’s a duality. The most literal way that manifests is the fact that I speak two different languages in my lyrics. But there are also always two opposing feelings or two opposing styles that exist in most of the music that I write.
Achieving a completely genderless world is a tall order, however, and Yaeji knows it. For now, she’s content with her newfound control over her art and the increased access to technology that allowed her to create it. “It’s quite stimulating,” she says.